In a document analysis activity, students are given a single document or group of documents with the same category/author/design to thoroughly analyze. The activity can take several forms. The document analyzed can be text-based or a photo. In forensics, the item might be analyzed for handwriting or linguistic style (note that fingerprint analysis would be considered a laboratory exercise in the OTAI). In linguistics, the document could be studied for style. In poetry, it could be an explication of a single work. A historical work could also be analyzed for historical learning. Hermeneutical analysis of a single work would also qualify as document analysis herein.

Appropriate Content Areas

Most fields, although less used in engineering and mathematics. Common in Language Arts, Social Sciences, Anthropology, Psychology, Forensics, Philosophy, History, and Law.


The National Archives, (n.d.). Teaching with documents: Lesson plans. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

Goals and Objectives

The simple goal of a document analysis activity is for students to become extremely familiar with a single work that holds some value to the overall goals of the course. Example objectives might include:

After active participation in the document analysis activity, students will…

  • Assess the historical value of a given work,
  • Summarize or paraphrase the important facts in a given work,
  • Formulate a critical analysis of the given work,
  • Classify the style of the given work,
  • Analyze the handwriting style of a given work,
  • Explicate the given poem,
  • Determine the artistic vision attempted by a given photograph,
  • Examine the historical attributes of a given photograph,

as determined by 80% application of rubric items.

Additional action words that are appropriate include: summarize, describe, interpret, review, memorize…


Often none. In some cases, such as handwriting analysis, students would need background understanding of the concepts. In hermeneutical or historical analysis, students would also need background knowledge.

Materials and Resources

What needs to be prepared in advance by the teacher? – The instructor should have questions prepared to guide the students analysis. Furthermore, a rubric for grading the activity based upon potential student answers should be developed. The instructor may also need to provide the document for analysis in some cases.

What does the student need to bring to the lesson? – Complete prior readings.

Guiding Questions for this Activity

The guiding question can differ a little based upon the curriculum. Common guiding questions may include: Can the student adequately synthesize the heteroglot encompassed in the given work? What historical point is encompassed by the given work? What can be said about the person who wrote the given work? This activity usually tests the student’s comprehension of earlier learned facts in application.

Activity Outline and Procedure

  1. Begin with a lesson discussing the principle(s) to be found in the given document(s).
  2. Provide students with access to the document(s) and a list of specifc questions to address.
  3. Allow 3 days for students to analyze the document(s).
  4. Students then turn in an analysis of the document(s) in which they specifically address the questions asked.
  5. Students can peer review the analysis of other students.
  6. Provide your own additional comments in summary.

Teaching Strategies

  • In many cases, professional analysi(/e)s of the given document(s) may be available to share with the students after the activity.
  • Multiple types of documents can be analyzed in a single activity.


What accommodations may be needed for students with disabilities or other special needs? For some disabilities, this activity will not be possible. For example, a blind person will not be able to analyze visual elements of a work such as handwriting. Other works may require audio or Braille versions, which is not as difficult for this activity since important works are generally utiilized that are more likely to be in alternative formats. Visual elements may need an alternative activity as well.


Typically, about 3 days should be provided at a minimum between the time the document is presented and the time that the assignment is due. However, in some cases, this may be used as a testing activity, in which students are only given 10 minutes to an hour to make their analysis.

Ideas for Activity Evaluation and Teacher Reflection

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities.

How was student learning verified? An assessment should be performed on the quality of the analysis. Discussion on the process that the student used to come upon his/her analysis can also be performed.